Should I stretch before I run or after?
What kind of stretches should I do?
The warm-up moves we do, that’s not really stretching, is it?
There’s a lot of information floating around about stretching. The latest research supports that dynamic stretches (controlled movement through a range of motion) before a workout, and static stretches (holding a muscle in an elongated position) after a workout are the best practices.
Dynamic stretches get blood flowing to the muscles and awaken the neuromuscular pathways. Before doing any kind of stretching it’s good to get your circulation flowing and your body temperature up. You can do this with a brisk walk or light jog or by starting with less intense dynamic movements and gradually increasing intensity. To be most effective, dynamic stretches should be similar to what your workout or sport includes. For runners, cyclists, hikers, skiers, that means walking lunges, side-to-side leg swings, treading feet in downward dog, butt kicks, walking straight leg kicks. For workouts that involve more upper body, that means incorporating arm circles, jumping jacks, push ups against an elevated surface, curls, presses and rows that move the arms and torso, but use little or no additional weight. Dynamic stretches may not seem that much like stretches. You might think of them more as waking your body up, light warm-up exercises or calisthenics.
Static stretching (which is what we usually think of when we say “stretching”) before the muscle is warmed up can lead to injury and can actually weaken the muscle for certain types of contractions. That’s why you don’t want to do them before an activity. But when you’ve finished a workout and your muscles are still warm, static stretching returns muscles to their ideal length. Static stretches are also effective before bed. The basic instruction for static stretching is to hold the muscle in an aligned, lengthened position, just verging on discomfort, for 3-5 deep breaths.
In our cardio and strength-focused fitness world, flexibility sometimes falls off the back. But it’s a major component that seriously enables (or limits) your fitness.